Tuesday, April 3, 2012

New England's (renewed) cod crisis

Most everyone by now knows something of the collapse of New England groundfish stocks following heavy overfishing by foreign factory-freezer trawlers (in the late 1960s and early 1970s) and domestic fishermen (through the early 1990s, when many fisheries were closed or severely curtailed.) It's a sad tale that's been told many times, including in my book on Maine, The Lobster Coast.

In recent years, however, there's been ground for optimism, with many Georges Bank and Gulf of Maine stocks having recovered or been deemed well on the road to being so. Many fishermen have been hanging on, trying to survive what has been hoped to be a lean period of finite duration, a tale I touched on in this piece a few years back. Even cod, federal fisheries scientists reported, was rebuilding at an acceptable rate.

But there's been a sudden reversal of fortune in recent months in regards to cod, with scientists reporting that previous assessments were faulty, and recommending deep cuts to fishermen's quotas. Concern was first limited to the Gulf of Maine cod stock -- the one most Maine codfishermen rely on -- but in recent days has been expanded to include Georges Bank cod as well.

Where did the scientists go wrong and what does it mean for one of Maine's most storied industries? That's the subject of my Talk of Maine piece in the new issue of Down East, available at news stands and, now, online.

One update since the piece was written: regulators settled on a 22 percent cut in quotas for this year, with far steeper cuts expected in 2013.

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